Mountains of Austria

From our campground: Monastary in Stams, Austria

Mike and I have spent quite a bit of time in Austria over the last few years but we haven’t been in the Tyrol region and the panhandle for more than 20 years. On the way from Switzerland to Germany we decided to make yet another side trip and visit Innsbruck and explore Tyrol a little. We emailed the campground that we were hoping to stay in, ahead of time and talked to them on the phone. Funnily enough we have had to do that more often in Western Europe than we ever did in Central and Eastern Europe. In France and Germany, it isn’t unusual to be told that we are too big. We had an argument when we arrived. They wanted us to pay for two places. In actual fact, although our camper is longer than most we don’t take up the width that real “camping” folks do. We have slide-outs but the vast majority of campers have a very large awning, reclining chairs and a table for the entire family. If Mike and I can back up over the edge of a parking space so that our length doesn’t matter as much we actually take up less square metres on a camping pitch. I know that this isn’t always possible, but it often is. Our height obviously doesn’t take up extra usable space. After we reminded the woman that we had talked to someone (male) at the campground ahead of time she finally agreed to the rate that we were expecting. The campground was not full.

The location was gorgeous. We had a view of the mountains out of our front window, and we could see the spires from the Abbey in the picture above. The picture was taken with our drone hovering over top of our camper so that you could see the full abbey. You can just see one of the more permanent campers in the bottom of the picture.

Our rate at the campground included 4 kw of electricity per day. This meant nothing to me. I just assumed that we would need more than whatever the standard was. and we would have to pay for it. Wouldn’t you know that we got hit with a heat wave almost the entire time we were there. This meant that there were times when we just had to use the air conditioners, no matter what they cost. We only ran them for a few hours late afternoon and kept them off in the evenings and overnight. I guess I am cheap. It was a very strange feeling sitting in the RV staring up at the snow in the mountains in very humid 34°C weather. One local told us that the heat was due to sand blowing up from Egypt. Who knows?

Weird display in monastary

Part of the abbey is now a museum. One section in it was for “Curiosities”. I wish we could remember what we actually saw in that section. It was really different and quite interesting. The picture here is a skeleton dressed in regal clothing taken from another section, but I thought was a bit weird as well.

Our drive to the campground turned out to be a little different than expected. The main highway was closed for some reason. The express highway we were supposed to be on was close to the river that flowed along the valley with tunnels through the mountains in many places to avoid having to go up and down. With the highway closed, all the traffic that would normally be on that highway was routed onto a two-lane road that snaked up through the mountains. The road climbed up to 6,000 ft and then back down as we went over the mountains from Switzerland into Austria. There were many serpentine turns. In some places you could see 5 or 6 bends in the road either up or down the mountainside ahead of us. Fortunately, the road was wide enough, and the turns were big enough that going slowly we could make it around the bends without having to go into the oncoming lane. As the highway was completely closed, all the traffic that would normally go in both directions was on this road making it considerably busier than normal. Busy, mountain roads were not where we wanted to be in our RV.

Maria-Theresien-Strasse, Innsbruck, Austria.

We visited Innsbruck a few times. This is another city where my mental picture was quite wrong ahead of time. If I had thought it through logically, I would have known that Innsbruck was a good size city but I had this Austrian skiing resort town in my head and it is way bigger than that. The Innsbruck picture above was much more like my imagination, but we didn’t see this area until our third or fourth visit.

St. George’s Altar

While in Innsbruck we toured the city using one of our self-guided audio tour apps which we really enjoy doing.  We have started to get more biking in. I am not up to lots of 40 km days in a row yet, but I am getting better again. My foot still can’t handle walking more than a few kilometres without being quite uncomfortable.

While in Innsbruck we toured their castle or the Schloss Ambras. One of the items on display was the St. George Altar. The two sides and the bottom are paintings. The centre is a sculpture of St. George killing the dragon. It was lovely.

I am really enjoying using these AI conversational tools. I asked ChatGPT what the difference was between frescoes and murals. All I knew was that we had seen both many times over the last few years. Here is what I was told about frescoes for anyone else who doesn’t know. “Fresco is a specific painting technique that involves applying pigments onto wet plaster. It requires the artist to work quickly on fresh, damp plaster as it sets. The pigments mix with the wet plaster and chemically bond with it as it dries, creating a durable and long-lasting painting. Frescoes become an integral part of the wall surface.” So I learned something 😊 We have seen frescoes that are hundreds, and in Egypt over a thousand, years old that still retain quite a bit of their colour. Absolutely amazing.

Roundabout with a “Broken Ladder” sculpture in Stams, Austria.

Europe is filled with these traffic roundabouts while North America has almost none. Mike and I really like them.  You know that if you are going the wrong way, the next roundabout will let you easily change direction. Traffic keeps flowing nicely without any red lights to hold you up. No left hand turns in front of oncoming traffic. I do get concerned when the roundabouts get too big and too busy. We drove on a huge one in London once, not nice. On our first visit to Paris many years ago, we sat and had a coffee in a café right beside the Arc de Triomphe waiting to see how long it would take on that very large and very busy roundabout for an accident. We watched the traffic for about 15 minutes before we saw a fender bender. We often see welcome signs for a nearby town in the centre of a roundabout. Sometimes there are grapes or other crops growing on that tiny bit of land. There are nearly always lovely flowers on a roundabout. I like the statues and carvings in the middle that we often see. Mike liked this one near our campground. It is a broken ladder held up by two men. Mike thinks (with the help of Google) that it represents inequality and the fact that the poor or lower classes can’t climb to the top. I have found multiple other meanings for this symbol. It makes a nice visual break from driving down a straight road.

Mike in Swarovski Crystal World

Almost exactly 20 years ago, when Mike and I drove through this area in a rented camper we saw signs for Swarovski Crystal. Due to time constraints, since we were on a two, or three, week vacation, we ignored them, and I regretted it later on. This time Mike and I made sure to visit Swarovski Crystal Worlds or Swarovski Kristallwelten. We knew nothing about it ahead of time. It turns out that there is an outdoor area that included a kid’s playground, a carousel and a maze that Mike really liked. He said it was the first maze he had been in where he couldn’t see anything over the top and was well laid out.

The highlight of the park is the Giant which contains 18 rooms or chambers, all underground and all very different. One room had warnings about only visiting for a few minutes due to the cold temperature. It had snow and a Christmas tree, all ablaze with Swarovski Crystals.

The chamber that impressed me the most was their “The Art of Performance”. This celebrated Swarovski’s longstanding relationship with Hollywood. They had lots of original outfits and some replicas. You could see Dorothy’s glittering ruby red slippers and Michael Jackson’s jewelled glove. There were acrobatic outfits studded in crystals. They had an original huge feather headpiece and outfit worn by Cher. There were original sparkly outfits worn by Elton John and Marlene Dietrich. Katy Perry’s Moschino Chandelier gown that she wore to the 2019 Met Ball was on display as were pieces made for Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.

There were some phenomenal outfits and gorgeous jewellery in this room but most of it was inside glass cases. I tried taking some photos but with the glass reflection and the sparkling crystals everywhere they didn’t turn out very well.

One of the 18 rooms, called the “Heroes of Peace”, was actually unrelated to crystals as far as I could see. It was holograms of people like Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and many others giving part of one of their speeches. It was actually very well done. Mike and I stood and watched Mahatma Gandi and Nelson Mandela.

As you would expect the tour of Swarovski Kristallwelten ended in a jewellry store. The store, with all its crystals of various sizes, was very interesting to wander around in and no I did not purchase anything there.

Mike and I had picked the Innsbruck area to visit partially because it was within an hour of the most southerly town on Germany’s Romantic Road, Füssen. We did visit Füssen and do a little bike riding during our stay in Austria. We plan on going all the way north along the Romantic Road. I know that it is very much set up for tourists which doesn’t put it on my favourite’s list but I also know that there are lots of lovely towns to visit in the area. I will include Füssen in the post I write in a couple of weeks just on the Romantic Road.

Mountain road near Oetz, Austria

While we were in Austria, Mike and I explored many small towns on drives into the mountains.  This picture was taken on one of our drives. In addition, I had planned a long drive on two panoramic roads, through a couple of mountain passes with a stop for a cable car ride. A couple of days before we were due to leave Austria for Germany Mike and I were looking at the map and came up with a route change. A few years ago, Mike and I biked into San Candido on the first leg of our international cycling path. We changed our plans so that we would camp in northern Italy. We could then use the trains and cycle through the mountains and extend our path from Sand Candido to Innsbruck. Using the trains, we could make sure that our rides were all predominantly downhill. That area was also closer to the panoramic drive that I had planned than our current location.

On Wednesday morning Mike and I packed up, attached the car to the back of our RV and left for Italy. We got about half a kilometre down the road when Mike realized that the light next to the driver’s panel that was supposed to indicate when the brakes on our towed car were on, wasn’t lighting up. We stopped on the road. and I went out to check and discovered that the car brake lights weren’t coming on, neither were the direction signals. Mike went to the car and put it in park to start it so we could see if the brake lights came on when the brakes in the car were applied directly. Well, Mike got as far as putting the car in park, but now we had an even bigger problem: Although we could start the car we couldn’t shift it out of park which means we couldn’t even push it to the side of the road. After almost two hours of Mike working with his legs sticking out the driver’s door of the RV into the roadway with me standing at his feet making sure that traffic wouldn’t drive over my husband, Mike successfully made a partial fix and we returned to the campground. There Mike worked all day to fix problems caused by a short in the cable that electrically linked the car to the camper. By 6 pm he had solved the problem by removing the bit if metal that caused the short, and replaced the blown fuses in both the car and the RV. He had spent quite a bit of time under the RV before tracing the fault. That evening we checked the weather and found out that it was predicted to rain for the next week. Often the predicted afternoon rain holds off until the evening, but you can’t count on that, and it puts you off doing a 40 km bike ride. Since the only reason that we were going to Italy was to extend our bike route (and because I love the mountains) we decided to skip it for now. This meant that we also missed the panoramic route I had planned. It is possible that we will still get to Italy and our bike rides in the fall on our way south for the winter. With our luck, by then the mountains will be impassable. Our new plan was now to drive to a town on the Romantic Road that was within an hour’s drive of Munich which we both wanted to return to.  Thursday morning, we hooked up the car again and left, this time heading north instead of south.

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